One of the excellent Chordify wallpaper images

This post is for all those part-time guitar players who remember the OLGA database of guitar chords. The future has arrived, after a long wait.

Back in the late 90's and early aughts the Online Guitar Archive, better known by it's babushka-ish acronym, was the biggest and best collection of chords and tablature out there. It was a mecca for guitarists who didn't have the time to decode the chords from recordings or, like me, weren't talented enough yet to even know where to begin. Searching online for pre-chorded songs has been the norm ever since. Enter a Dutch PhD student with a talent for computer analysis of music and now the game has changed. Chordify is here!

Click "Read More" for the rest of the review!

The OLGA ran afoul of copyright law starting in 1994 and ended up coming down for good in 2006. Apparently music publishers were worried that it was cutting into their profits on published chord and tab books and that the chords were copied from published sources. How you prove that, given that basic chords are based on mathematical relationships and will end up the same whether you chord the song yourself or copy the chords from a book, was never something that made sense to me. But nonetheless, those were the Napster years when the music industry was busy engineering it's own demise with similar lawsuits all over the industry, so the result wasn't unexpected.

Every musician plays covers of other peoples music, whether its traditional music, pop or oldies. Figuring out the chords for songs is a pain in the butt, even for talented musicians though. Most of us find that a quick Google search is much easier than doing it by hand. And this is still possible because, as tends to happen with internet sharing, the chords from the original OLGA never really disappeared. You can still find them on the many chord sights that have proliferated to the point that I think companies see it as pointless to attempt to stop them. That works just fine, but only if the song you want to play is popular enough to have been chorded by someone else…and that person did a reasonable job. There are a lot of junky chords out there.

Chordify takes this process into the modern era. Goodbye ASCII text lyrics with indecipherable spacing and fruitless searches for chords to songs that are too niche to have been chorded before. Hello well-designed web interfaces, automatic chord recognition for online videos or music streaming sites and even uploaded songs from your own library. Hello to a beat tracking interface that allows you to follow along with the chords as the song plays, with each measure divided by the time signature. Chordify is pretty awesome.

The Chordify interface and opening page
Logging into Chordify you are greeted with a minimal interface with a box on the left that lets you either upload a song from your own collection, search YouTube, Soundcloud or Deezer for a song or copy a url for one of those sites. The wallpaper switches as you wait, with universally eye-catching images that are fun in their own rite. Once you've uploaded or found a song, hit the chordify button and you see a progress bar as the backend algorithm that de Baas developed for his PhD calculates the chords.

When it's done the screen shows the sound source (video, stream, etc…) in the upper left and the chords arranged in 4/4 blocks on the bottom half of the screen. A banner gives you options for play and repeat, along with options for downloading the chords and chord diagrams. The best part of this is that when you hit play the original video or stream starts while a dark block moves with the beat through the chords making a perfect way to practice along, get the beat and rhythm, and repeat as many times as you want. If you pay for a subscription you can even transpose the chords, adjust the speed that the song plays, and print the chords as you see them on the screen…all features I haven't tried because I'm cheap.

Ex: "Girls from Texas" by Pat Green Chordified from YouTube
All is not completely rosy, cutting edge and flawless with Chordify though. The algorithm won't go beyond basic chords, so all you budding Django's will still have to put in your own complex transitions. In fact, the algorithm doesn't even recognize 7th chords, making a lot of blues songs look curiously sparse. Also, the chord interface is forever stuck in 4/4 time, assuming that all songs have four beats per measure and dividing chords into blocks accordingly. Chordifying a waltz or an irish song in 6/8 made for a slightly odd look that required ignoring the dividing bars between measures. Timing errors also tend to happen if the song has a lot of dead space at the beginning. The algorithm isn't that great at figuring out the beginning of the song and placing the chords within a meaningful structure. Also, beware of YouTube covers…garbage in equals garbage out in this's quickly apparent when people are out of tune or haven't tuned to A440, the chords become, shall we say, messy. Despite this, the chords are correct and they match the song when it's played back as long as the original song is in tune, so the core of what the site does seems solid.

Overall I'm really impressed with Chordify. It has the potential to change the game completely for me and as the technology improves I can see it being very useful. Having a bit of user control might be nice; things like the ability to mark the start of the song, specify a time signature, or insert more complex 7th, suspended or inverted chords would be really helpful. Still, having the ability to find chords for obscure songs, or even quickly creating chord diagrams from my own songs by uploading a recording, is an awesome idea. I also like seeing how the incredible strides being made in computing and modeling technology have made it possible to automate something as complex as finding the correct chords. And the site is just so darn pretty it's hard not to like it. I'm looking forward to great things from Chordify in the future.